Silver Galapagos: Day 8 – Disembarkation in Baltra

Recapping our journey aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos

Silversea's Silver Galapagos at anchor off San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador, on October 9, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silversea’s Silver Galapagos at anchor off San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador, on October 9, 2014. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Aaron Saunders, Live Voyage Reports

On Saturday morning, I said goodbye to Silversea’s Silver Galapagos in the port of Baltra after a stunning trip through the Galapagos Islands as part of Silversea’s weeklong Darwin’s Discovery – Western Galapagos Islands itinerary.

Over the course of a week, I had the chance to arguable see and learn more about the endemic species of wildlife that call the Galapagos home than I would have ever considered possible. The things you’ll see will confound your expectations and shatter your perceptions of the world around you. It’ll ruin zoos and aquariums for you for the rest of your days. This is the real deal – wild and untamed.

The Galapagos is the real deal. Accept no substitutes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The Galapagos is the real deal. Accept no substitutes. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
This is nature wild and untamed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
This is nature wild and untamed. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

But I was also able to experience the refurbished Silver Galapagos. She’s looking worlds apart from her former self, and while there’s still some work that could be done, the month-long drydock was a colossal improvement in her appearance and functionality. In fact, the refit was pulled off so well that most guests couldn’t pinpoint what had changed until they were confronted with her former looks – dark wood panelling and public spaces that had been cobbled together over decades of hard use. Silversea is attempting to put the style and elegance back into Silver Galapagos, and they are succeeding.

Say Hello to the New Silver Galapagos. Pictured is a Deluxe Veranda Suite on Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
My voyage also served a dual purpose: I wanted to see the new and improved Silver Galapagos. Pictured is a Deluxe Veranda Suite on Deck 4. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

The full Live Voyage Report:

Even if I did have to be reluctantly dragged off, disembarking Silver Galapagos couldn’t have been easier. Guests were requested to be out of their suites at 7:30 in the morning, but breakfast continued for a full hour after that and guests could pass the time until our 9:30 a.m. disembarkation by watching the BBC Documentary, Galapagos, in the Explorer’s Lounge if they so wished.

The attractive new Explorer Lounge on Deck 3 mimics the look and feel of the same space aboard Silver Discoverer. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guests could relax in the new Explorer Lounge on Deck 3 and watch the BBC documentary, Galapagos. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Just as they had one week before, the crew of the Silver Galapagos took all our luggage off by skiff, where it was transferred to a separate truck to the airport. Baltra may not be much more than a barren rocky outcrop with a few service roads, but Baltra Seymour Airport is a world apart from the one we flew into in San Cristobal. Bright and modern, check-in here is easy and efficient.

Silversea even sets up a private lounge, post-security, exclusively for Silver Galapagos guests to relax in. Nice touch!

Saying goodbye to the Galapagos as my TAME Ecuador A320 climbs out from Baltra. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Saying goodbye to the Galapagos as my TAME Ecuador A320 climbs out from Baltra. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

At this point it’s worth mentioning that a trip to the Galapagos is paperwork city: at Baltra Airport, you have to keep your Ingala Control receipt with you. This is then stapled onto your boarding pass and one end is kept for local authorities. You also have to keep the Ecuadorian arrival card you received upon entry into the country handy for when you fly out; you’ll have to present this to immigration officials.

If you don’t already have a good organizer, this is the trip you’ll want to invest in one. If you’ve got an old Silversea document pouch kicking around, I’d use that – the Galapagos is paperwork city.

Now, Silversea takes most of the pain of this out of the equation – they’ll check you in for your group flight to Guayaquil with LAN Ecuador and even check your bags in and issue your boarding passes.

Arrival in Guayaquil. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Arrival in Guayaquil. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Because I did my airfare at the last minute, the LAN Ecuador flight was full – so I flew 30 minutes ahead of my fellow guests to Guayaquil on TAME Airlines. Pronounced tam-eh, the flight on an Airbus A320 was comfortable enough, and the lunch options were better than on LAN Ecuador. So, regardless of which airline you’re assigned, the experience is very similar: friendly, bilingual flight crews coupled with modern Airbus jets.

In Guayaquil, guests start to go their separate ways. Some had booked the fantastic three night post cruise Machu Picchu Explorer land tour, while others were heading off to Lima, Peru for a six-night post cruise Amazon Explorer trip. Still others were spending a day or two in Guayaquil, and a few – like myself – were only there for seven or eight hours until our next flight to North America.

Day Room Digs at the gorgeous Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil, one of Silversea's post-cruise hotel properties. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Day Room Digs at the gorgeous Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil, one of Silversea’s post-cruise hotel properties. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guyaquil's Hotel Oro Verde is a great place to spend some time post-cruise...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Guyaquil’s Hotel Oro Verde is a great place to spend some time post-cruise…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
...particularly with this nautical-themed bar! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
…particularly with this nautical-themed bar! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silversea booked guests with long layovers choosing their Silver Sky Air Programme in day rooms at the gorgeous Hotel Oro Verde in Guayaquil. This is one of those properties I’d wished I was staying a day at – and not just because the bar was themed after an old ocean liner. No. That was just an added bonus. Truth be told, the hotel is a beautiful property, and I’d wished I’d scheduled in some time to explore Guayaquil. It seems a shame to come all that way and not tour around a bit.

Since I’ve been back for a few days, here’s my take on the Silver Galapagos:

Silver Galapagos at anchor at sunset. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Silver Galapagos at anchor at sunset. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Sail the Galapagos Aboard Silver Galapagos If:

  • You want an all-inclusive luxury expedition cruise to the Galapagos. Despite the limitations and restrictions of operating in the Galapagos, no one does it better here than Silversea at the moment, from check-in to final disembarkation.
  • You love the unique brand of luxury that Silversea provides.
  • You want a fun, engaging educational cruise experience using the best possible Galapagos National Park Service guides.
  • You value a ship with larger-than-average suites and luxurious amenities like video-on-demand, high-speed internet, iPod docking stations, private balconies, and multiple dining venues. Did I mention butlers for every single suite onboard?

Avoid Silver Galapagos If:

  • You want everything to be “just like home.” It won’t be. This is the total Ecuadorian immersion experience – and that’s a huge positive, not a negative. Embrace the local food and wine – it’s better than you might think.
  • You have unrealistic expectations: those seeking absolutely flawless vessels laden with untold food and wine from around the world will be disappointed on any ship in the Galapagos.
  • You can’t recognize and appreciate that this is a very remote part of the world with unique logistical challenges that affect nearly every aspect of shipboard operations to some degree.
  • You have mobility issues. Heavy swells and lack of suitable docking spaces mean that all embarkations and disembarkations are conducted via the ship’s inflatable Zodiac rafts.
The experiences offered on the Silver Galapagos are second-to-none. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
The experiences offered on the Silver Galapagos are second-to-none. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Lastly, I know I sound like a broken record, but I’ll say it again: this is a unique part of the world. It’s nearly a thousand kilometres from the mainland. It’s heavily protected and regulated by the Ecuadorian Government, the Galapagos National Park Service, and even UNESCO gets into the mix. There are little Silversea touches that you might be used to that won’t be present here, nor will the vast majority of the Silversea staff that you might be used to. There are little luxury touches found on other ultra-luxe lines that won’t be here, either. And every operator in the region is playing within the same sandbox.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Silver Galapagos is a working, functional ship first and foremost, yet she offers some of the most spacious suites and diverse public areas in the region. Other ships don’t have butlers in every suite – or all-suite configurations, for that matter. They don’t have massive open deck spaces where buffet and made-to-order lunches are available, or where you can grill your food under the stars at Silversea’s signature venue, The Grill Featuring Hot Rock Dining. They don’t have elaborate menus overseen by European chefs using Ecuadorian ingredients.

Remember these guys? They're everywhere! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Remember these guys? They’re everywhere! Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
It's the contrast - between the rugged beauty of the Galapagos and the luxe touches aboard Silver Galapagos - that make her so great. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
It’s the contrast – between the rugged beauty of the Galapagos and the luxe touches aboard Silver Galapagos – that make her so great. Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Until next time...Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Until next time…Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Considering all that she does have, I’ll part with my Bulgari toiletries for a week. You can save the French Champagne for my next trip on Silver Cloud or Silver Spirit, and pack away the Pierre Marcolini chocolates. I don’t need them here, and they’re certainly not a good reason to stay away from Silver Galapagos. The Galapagos is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever seen, and if you can’t set foot here and be completely moved by the experience – well, I feel sorry for you. Surely the beauty of life is the ability to be surprised, to react to the world around us with a kind of wonder and awe that our structured daily routines don’t typically allow for.

The guidebooks call this the “trip of a lifetime.” My week aboard Silver Galapagos was exactly that.

Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2014 Aaron Saunders

Our Live Voyage Report aboard Silversea’s Silver Galapagos has sadly come to a close, but we have more Live Voyage Reports in the works.

silvergalapagos_western_itin
Illustration courtesy of Silversea Cruises

Our full journey:

DAYPORT ACTIVITIES
Friday, October 3, 2014Quito, EcuadorArrive Quito; overnight stay at the JW Marriott Quito
Saturday, October 4San Cristobal, EcuadorFly from Quito to San Cristobal; embark Silver Galapagos
Sunday, October 5Bartolome / Playa Espumilla, Santiago
Monday, October 6Punta Vincente Roca, Isabela / Punta Espinoza, Fernandina
Tuesday, October 7Caleta Tagus, Isabela / Bahia Elizabeth, Isabela
Wednesday, October 8Post Office Bay, Floreana / Punta Cormorant or Corona del Diablo or Champion, Florena
Thursday, October 9Galapaguera Cerro Colorado, San Cristobal / Cerro Brujo Hill, San Cristobal
Friday, October 10Los Gemelos, Santa Cruz / Puerto Ayora and Estacion Charles Darwin, Santa Cruz
Saturday, October 11, 2014Baltra / Guayaquil, EcuadorDisembark Silver Galapagos in Baltra; fly to Guayaquil, Ecuador & return journey.
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